Besides being a U.S. Army veteran, a skilled fisherman, a good golfer and an octogenarian who has mastered the smart phone, James “Gus” Munger is a hall-of-fame father to those who know him best.
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Some people, through no fault of their own, grow up without a dad. Maybe it was due to an automobile accident, a health crisis that resulted in the loss of their father, a bitter divorce that put a lot of geography between them and their dad, or simply a series of bad choices made by the adults in that child’s world.
Others have the good fortune to receive the guidance and wisdom of a father as they grow and mature and eventually find their place in life. He is always there, to rock that baby while Mom gets a much-needed break, to hold that toddler’s hand when even the perception of danger is present, to help build that vinegar and baking soda volcano for a fifth grade science project, to provide steady and measured instruction during those tense, first driving lessons, and to assist in the navigation of that college financial aid form, authored by Satan’s accountant, called the FAFSA.
And then there are those few who are the exceptionally blessed and have two fathers, two incredible role models, and receive double indemnity in life’s lessons. I count myself in that club, since my father-in-law is cut from the same rare paternal cloth as my dad was.
A lot of Blade readers know something of my father, since I have done a lousy job of restraining my pride over a man who came from nothing, and without the benefit of a good father in his life, did a Heaven-worthy job of providing for his family and helping raise his children the right way. At the same time, compassion and care always came well before accounts receivable in his 45-year medical practice, so every day we received a priceless lesson in how to treat your fellow man.
My father has been gone for more than 20 years now, but I have been privileged and honored to have a second father, my wife’s dad James V. Munger, also serving in that guidance role. Grandpa Gus, as he is known in family lore, is part Jimmy Stewart with his mild, measured and always tempered delivery, part Mr. Fix-It with his ability to repair, unravel, restore or otherwise miraculously mend anything, and part Sam Snead with his enjoyment of a gentlemanly round of golf, with the emphasis on always being a gentleman.
I married Gus’ oldest daughter 30 years ago, and even though he knew I was a Detroit Tigers fan and he was a Cleveland Indians fan, he let me in the family. I gained a wife, and an amazing second father, on a bitterly cold January day at the Basilica of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey.
My dad and Gus became fast friends, which was no surprise since they came from the father factory with a lot of the same Dad DNA. Gus was a highly skilled plumber by trade and my dad was an equally gifted surgeon, so they joked that between them, they had serviced most of the plumbing in town.
When my children came along, they idolized both men, giving them some sort of supernatural, superhero status since Grandpa Markey could stitch up a nasty cut, fix a fever, or push back a cold, while Grandpa Munger could repair their bike, solder the wiring in that crashed toy car, or put a hopelessly broken keepsake back together.
It became clear very early on that Gus could do anything, and fix just about everything. It even got a bit irritating when his granddaughter Lauren, with a disabled toy in hand, would get frustrated with her dad’s floundering attempts at rescuing the situation and declare with four-year-old disgust that she would just take the matter to Grandpa, because “he can fix anything.”
And he has. Gus is blessed with a practical, technical, mechanical and methodical skill set that knows no boundaries. His “know-how” is surpassed only by his kindness, compassion and devotion to his family.
When after nearly 40 years on the job it came time for retirement, and he was ready for all of the golf and fishing he had earned during those decades of oftentimes dirty work, it wasn’t too long before his wife developed a debilitating illness that required a lot of care. Without fanfare or reservation, he put the fishing rods in the rack, the golf clubs in the garage, and he went about the business of attending to her.
You might think he missed out on a lot of rounds on the links, or many days on Lake Erie, but that was never his perspective. Gus was simply doing what a husband does when his wife is ill. He took the “in sickness and in health” phrase in those vows as seriously as the rest of them, and he lived it. And at the same time, he gave those of us around him about the best lesson in being a good husband that we’ll ever experience.
In the years since his wife’s death, Gus has fought blood cancer to a stalemate, remarried, and now shares his kindness, concern and compassion with a whole new family. He remains the ultimate “good guy” in the eyes of his extended clan, and with his grandkids he has the anchor position up on the Mount Rushmore of grandfathers. And he is still that steady, reliable, unflappable storehouse of wisdom with his own children.
Gus is a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, serving during the Korean War era, a good golfer as an octogenarian, skilled on the barbeque grill, owner of a wit as dry as a martini that just walked by the vermouth, and a skilled smart phone user. These days he doesn’t make as many trips out on Lake Erie as he would like, but he can still handle a fishing rod, and a fillet knife.
He is one of those individuals that God just blessed with know-how. There’s no book for it, no series of YouTube videos where you can learn it, and no instruction manual. Couple that with the man’s kindness, integrity, good heart, and generosity, and you’ve got one heck of a great father, grandfather, father-in-law and uncle.
Call me old school, out of touch, or one nose ring and a Snapchat account short of being hip, but I contend that there are certain things a father adds to your life than only he can provide. With both Gus and my father showing the way, I am a very humble winner in the role model Powerball lottery. If I mess this dad thing up, I’ve got no excuse.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: [email protected] or 419-724-6068.
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